Children in California and Illinois have become ill in the last several weeks after eating cookies and brownies made with marijuana.
In the most recent case, several elementary school students from Vallejo, Calif., got sick after eating marijuana-laced cookies given to one of them by a convenience store clerk. The cookies were made by a Colorado company that says they are legal because they are sold for medical purposes. The kids apparently didn't know that; they shared the cookies during lunch and reported feeling nauseated about half an hour later.
According to the school district, the children have been released from the hospital and are doing well.
"It's unclear if any of the children knew the cookies contained cannabis," police Sgt. Jeff Bassett said in a press release. "The packages are not clearly marked." Police are still trying to find the person who gave the cookies to the store clerk.
At least one state is now considering action against these marijuana edibles. According to local media reports, Rep. Cindy Acree, a Republican state legislator from Colorado, has proposed a ban on the sale of any food or drink containing marijuana, even if it has clearance for medical use. The bill is currently under debate. Acree said she is considering amendments to the bill that would permit the sale of edibles, but impose strict labeling, packaging and marketing regulations.
Some members of Colorado's law enforcement community support a ban because making these edibles widely available can be very tempting to children.
Experts say that situations like these show that medical marijuana is an issue that's still evolving, and many facets of it pose challenges to lawmakers, the public and the marijuana business, including how to regulate it appropriately where it is legal.
People on both sides of the issue agree it's essential to make sure marijuana stays out of the hands of children, although many advocates of medical marijuana think if a child needs it for medical reasons, it should be available.
Children who ingest marijuana can become ill, but just how sick they get depends on a number of factors, including the child's age, weight, the potency of the drug and how much the child gets.
"Kids may become giddy, constantly repetitive, they may stare off in space, may have some hallucinations," said Dr. Thomas Abramo, professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn. "Vomiting is a kind of protective mechanism. If children vomit, it makes me wonder if there's something else in it."
So-called "street" marijuana sometimes contains other chemicals such as ketamine or morphine, Abramo said.
The problem with edibles is that they often contain very potent cannabis, and people who eat them may not know just how much they're ingesting.
"I think it will become more of an issue with medical marijuana," said Abramo. "Kids will start getting into it without knowing the potency and strength." Other experts, however, say these incidents are rare and more likely to involve marijuana obtained on the street.
Marijuana for medicinal purposes is now legal in 15 states and the District of Columbia. The federal government still considers marijuana illegal. Under U.S. law, it is a Schedule 1 controlled substance, meaning it has no approved medical use.